Pope takes Christian Europe campaign to Spain

3rd November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Pope Benedict XVI's campaign to reverse what he sees as the growing secularisation of Europe will be at the heart of his two-day visit to Spain starting on Saturday, Vatican officials said.

His trip is being seen as particularly significant in a traditionally Catholic country whose government is enacting some of the most progressive legislation in the continent on issues such as gay rights and abortion.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Benedict would talk about Europe in a speech on Saturday in Santiago de Compostela in northeast Spain -- the third biggest pilgrimage site for Catholics after Jerusalem and Rome.

The pope will warn against "relativism and the idea inherited from the French Revolution that in order to be fully human you have to get rid of religious tradition," said Celso Morga, undersecretary for the Congregation of the Clergy.

Marco Politi, columnist for Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper, said: "The re-evangelisation of Europe is one of the grand aims of his pontificate."

One of Benedict's greatest preoccupations has been that "Europe could be emptied of all its religious practice and memory," he added.

The pope will first travel to Santiago, which is believed to be the resting place of the relics of Saint James, one of the 12 apostles, and then on to Barcelona where he will formally consecrate the famous Sagrada Familia church.

The architect of the unfinished and eccentric church, Antonio Gaudi (1852-1926), will also be a subject of discussion as the process for his beatification, a first step towards sainthood, was launched in 2003.

Benedict's visit to Spain will be his 18th trip abroad as pope and his 12th in Europe -- a sign of the central role that the continent plays in his eyes.

In the Santiago de Compostela cathedral, the pope will pray in front of Saint James' relics then embrace his statue -- a tradition kept by the thousands of pilgrims who go there every year since the Middle Ages.

He will later celebrate mass in front of the cathedral, with several thousand people expected to attend.

There is likely to be little mention of the multiple paedophile scandals that have rocked the Catholic church in recent months -- a crisis that has affected Spain less than other European countries.

Benedict XVI, who will meet Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero briefly in the airport before his departure on Sunday, is instead expected to address delicate issues such as the legalisation of gay marriage and abortion.

"At the Sagrada Familia, one of his themes will be that of the family," Lombardi said.

Politi said that Benedict would likely insist on "defending life and marriage as a union between a man and a woman."

Politi said the pope is aiming to reverse secularisation in Europe.

"That's why he recently created the pontifical council for a new evangelisation" -- the equivalent of a ministry of the Vatican, he said.

Sunday's mass in the Sagrada Familia will also be an occasion to pay homage to Gaudi "both as an artist and as a model of Christian faith," Lombardi said.

At the end of the mass, the church, which was begun more than a century ago, will be elevated to the status of a basilica.

© 2010 AFP

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